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Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Moody Blues

The second inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I'll be looking at is The Moody Blues. For years people scratched their heads at their exclusion--they were never even nominated. This year was their first nomination and they got in, thankfully. This showcases the general bias against prog-rock artists at the Hall. I mean, come on, The Moody Blues were everywhere on '70s radio, and on today's classic rock stations.

The band goes back to 1964. The original members were Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas, and John Lodge. They added Denny Laine to make their first album, with the hit "Go Now."

Laine left the band (and would end up with Paul McCartney in Wings) and was replaced by Justin Hayward, and there was a complete shift in music style. The band was named for their interest in R&B, but their second album would be Days of Future Passed, which was one of the first uses of an orchestra in pop music. A concept album that presents one day in the life of a typical person, it has become one of the "must have" albums for any classic rock fan.

Hayward's buttery voice and richly romantic writing style (he, Lodge, and occasionally Thomas were the composers) made The Moody Blues much more trippy. The hits from Days of Future Passed are still commonly heard today: "Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)" and "Nights in White Satin." The latter song was known by everyone I knew, and almost everyone knew the poem that came at the end: "Breathe deep, the gathering gloom..."

Several albums followed, with memorable hits, like "Question," "Isn't Life Strange," and "I'm Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band," which kicks off with Graeme Edge's progressively faster and faster drumming. I've always thought he was under-rated drummer.

The band still tours, although they have not put out an album in fifteen years. The only touring members from the old days are Hayward, Lodge, and Edge. Sadly, Ray Thomas died earlier this year. I think his most memorable contribution was the song "Legend of a Mind," which is about Timothy Leary, and opens with the line, "Timothy Leary's dead." If they end up making the movie about Leary, I hope that's what they call it and they use this song in the opening or closing credits.

What made The Moody Blues successful was a perfect coordination: Hayward's voice, the high production values, and the psychedelic approach that was still attainable. For instance, "Question" was a protest song, but not a particularly vicious one. "Isn't Life Strange," which uses Pachelbel's Canon, is a dreamy song with some sensational harmonies. In contrast to other prog-rock bands, who did a lot of experimentation (such as Yes), The Moody Blues seemed more in the mainstream of pop.

I've always loved The Moody Blues, and listening to them again I think the right word to use is gorgeous. The lush melodies, the pure voice of Hayward, and the occasional trip to inner/outer space make them unique in the annals of rock. They certainly deserve a place there.

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